Sunday, March 20, 2011

Champion Chase Day 2011 - a perspective

We received an early reminder on the crowded train to Cheltenham that, with St Patrick's Day falling on Thursday, Wednesday was Ladies' Day at this year's Festival. Two smartly dressed members of the fairer sex stood right next to us and promptly took off their heels, thereby revealing carelessly painted toenails and assorted bunions; all of a sudden the 'full English' started to weigh a little heavier on the stomach...

The Virgin ticket inspector, a polite wag, politely asked passengers to remove bags off seats so that 'some of the humans could sit down'. The train pulled in on time, the ladies slipped their heels back on and everyone left the station with an air of keen anticipation. My colleague and I had decided to walk to the track, taking liquid refreshment at The Rotunda Tavern along the way, where the Guinness went down well and was very reasonably priced.

On the long run to the course we were bombarded by leaflets, free offers and the like. A charming young lady with long blonde hair approached and promptly gave me (and several others) a scarf, dubious yellow in colour, with Betfair written on it in large black lettering. This struck me as something of an ambush marketing stunt; racing is certainly less strict than some other sporting events I've attended (Wimbledon, for example) where you're obliged to discard offending freebies or entry is forbidden. As soon as I was on course a punter came and enquired where I'd acquired my scarf. 'You're not going to believe this', I replied, 'but a smiling young lady approached me on the way up here and just gave it to me.' Barely seems plausible, does it? Just for half a second I think he thought I was having a laugh...

On The Morning Line one layer had reported Tuesday's turnover down 50%. The ring in Tatts felt half full on Wednesday. Ten minutes before the RSA, I saw something that would have been nigh on impossible in years gone by - a woman freely wheeled a child in a buggy between the various bookmakers' pitches. She stopped at one as the youngster seemed particularly interested in AiteenThirtythree at 15/2, yet right next door the same horse was available at 17/2. Tsk, tsk.

A paddock tip before the first, ' of the greys will win...', proved prescient; I just wasn't cute enough to take it seriously. Oscars Well travelled extremely well in the next and was considered the moral victor by many but there was a surfeit of disappointed backers when Bostons Angel fought back to beat Jessies Dream a neck in the RSA.

A feature of the Champion Chase market was the strength behind Master Minded who went off 2/1 favourite; I was surprised as last year Ruby had indicated that the gelding appeared reluctant to let himself down on quicker ground. Blog selection Big Zeb looked to have seen off that particular threat two from home but he had no answer to Sizing Europe after the last. My colleague, attending the Festival for the first time, was on the winner at 10/1, or so I thought... Meeting up after the race, I gave him the thumbs up but there was an air of abject dejection that told me all was not well. Distracted by placing a bet on French Opera for his partner, he'd quoted the wrong racecard number to the layer and only realised after the off; he'd mistakenly bet Master Minded instead of Sizing Europe and had only checked his partner's ticket. I wasn't too hard on him as years ago I'd done something similar at Ludlow except on that occasion I was lucky enough to collect on the mistaken wager. Back at the office the next day others were less forgiving, describing the mishap as 'a schoolboy error'. It was the closest we came to a winner all day.

Carlito Brigante won the Coral Cup in something of a common canter but if I heard a later tannoy announcement correctly, jockey Davy Russell weighed in two pounds heavier than he had weighed out. That generated some discussion on the terraces.

The most stirring finish of the day was in the Fred Winter where What A Charm, in receipt of more than a stone from Kumbeshwar, prevailed by a neck; by this time my back had gone and the legs were about to follow suit.

A number of runners in the bumper were skitty beforehand and reluctant to go to post. Willie Mullins' Lord Gale threw amateur jockey Mr P W Mullins right in front of us. The chestnut gelding was loose for a while and when eventually remounted was still very reluctant; in the race he pulled up inside the final furlong. Winner Cheltenian cost £210,000, Ann and Alan Potts' Go All The Way cost £310,000 - this one was noted doing his best work in the final four furlongs. 33/1 chance Aupcharlie caught the eye and looked a possible winner at one point while Harry Rednapp's Bygones In Brid finished well down the field in 18th but was described by Alan King as the best he has ever entered in this event.

Stories were swapped in The Centaur after racing. There it dawned on me that, had I undertaken the racecourse's offer - pay full Tatts price for a ticket and get a full refund if a lady trains a winner - I would have been entitled to the refund; Jessica Harrington trained the RSA winner Bostons Angel. In Thursday's Times Alan Lee reported 250 spectators had taken up the offer and that had cost the racecourse £10,000.

Not much luck on an overcast day but the Guinness was good and, no doubt, I'll do it all again next year.

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